Posted by: Alex Wellman24/08/2011
Contaminated land is something which all local authorities across the country know only too well.
Since the Environment Protection Act was tweaked at the turn of the century, the onus has been on local authorities to scour through their land assets and look for sites with possible contamination.
It is long, arduous and costly work that can cause panic among communities if not handled correctly.
Before the introduction of Part 2A of the act, this investigation – soil samples etc – only had to be done on new planning applications.
Inside Housing reported this week that Brent Council has been awarded £1.4 million to sort out a number of homes on two estates with contaminated land.
With this case, and many others, what becomes apparent is the length of time taken to get stuck in to the site and sort it out.
Take Brent as an example – only because they are the latest in a long line of local authorities forced into taking action against contaminated land.
The act came into force in 2002 and the first samples were taken in 2008.
It is now 2011 and work is expected to be completed by March next year.
From the council’s point of view, they are moving as fast as they can but I doubt residents and casual observers would say the same.
Council’s argue that they have to look through historic maps pinpointing possible sites for contamination – such as old milliners which would have used mercury.
From here an authority has to determine if it or a third party is responsible for the land now and then begin an investigation.
Councils say they have dozens and dozens of sites with potential contamination and they have to work through a priority list based on the greatest or most concerning possible contamination.
This seems plausible. However, speaking to lawyers who deal with these cases on an almost daily basis, it was said to me that councils can often be seen to drag their feet with contaminated land.
The feeling is that it is too costly and too much work and if the process is done slow enough, perhaps a private developer will swoop in and take over.
If this is the case, surely the blame must not be put fully on local authorities.
It is true to say that contaminated land must be investigated fully but in an age where belts are being tightened like never before, shouldn’t we direct our fury elsewhere?
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Alex Wellman takes a look at what’s going on in the social housing contracting sector